Sam Bradford never looked better. Really, how many quarterbacks have ever looked better than on the late August night last summer when Bradford completed all 10 of his passes for three touchdowns as the Eagles routed Green Bay at Lambeau Field in Week 3 of the 2015 preseason?
The performance left observers slack-jawed, and it revved up the expectations for the Eagles in 2015. Media analysts bought in so much that some predicted a Super Bowl trip for the Eagles. ESPN fantasy football "expert" Matthew Berry Tweeted out, "The Eagles are gonna be awesome this year. I want as many PHI players as I can get this year."
The win pushed the Eagles' preseason record to 3-0 and, with the regular season opener just two weeks away from that "awesome" and "powerful" performance, what could go wrong?
Well, as it turned out, just about everything went wrong for the Eagles, particularly on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage. The offense that moved the ball at will against Green Bay- and, truthfully, through the entire preseason - stalled badly in the opener at Atlanta and was even worse the next week in the home opener against Dallas. The Eagles were 6-9 when head coach Chip Kelly was relieved of his duties and the offense was pretty awful the entire season, with a few blips of success along the way.
So as the Eagles prepare for Week 3 of the preseason on Saturday at Indianapolis, the question begs: What does it all mean? How much do we read from this preseason game when the starting lineups generally play the first half and we get the most "realistic" look at NFL teams from the scope of the preseason?
"I understand the preseason," Bradford said on Monday. "I think I've got a better perspective on it. I think some people, especially outside the building (NovaCare Complex), live and die with it. Last year after the third preseason game, everyone thought we were going to the Super Bowl. But there's very little gameplanning that goes into the preseason. I'm sure Green Bay didn't gameplan to stop us last year. They probably hadn't even practiced (against) our offense. It was nice to go out there and execute the way we did, but I don't think anyone in our locker room really bought into the fact that because we looked great in a preseason game it was going to be easy in the regular season."
The goal for Saturday against the Colts, said Bradford, is to "to be great, to look sharp, to score touchdowns," but the Eagles won't feel "over the moon," if they do so in a preseason game.
So remember that. One way or the other. No matter how the Eagles play on Saturday night.
Yeah, OK. That won't happen, because the NFL invokes reaction and that's what fans and media do after games. React.
"It was a great game for us last year," said tight end Brent Celek, "but what did it mean? The regular season is an entirely different ballgame."
Last season was weird all around and I'm not sure I agree with Bradford that nobody in the locker room took the preseason win in Green Bay at face value. There was certainly a lot of confidence built in the preseason of 2015, and when the Eagles struggled early in the regular season they talked at length about being "better than their record." Nobody thought a switch could be flipped, but could players have allowed the preseason success to seep into their subconscious, if even a little bit?
"No veteran would think that way," Bradford said after his press conference. "We've all been through a preseason before."
The starters will play their most extended snaps of the preseason on Saturday night and we will all react and, perhaps, overreact to the performance. The coaches will continue to evaluate the individual performances of the players and then the nasty side of the NFL world comes into focus as the Eagles narrow the roster to 75 players by Tuesday and then to 53 players by the following Saturday afternoon.
"What does the preseason really mean?" defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz asks from time to time when he is queried on the performance of a player or of his group. "The regular season changes everything. The tempo changes, the gameplanning changes, the mindset changes. It's all different."
And with that, we look ahead to Saturday and the challenge of playing against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and the potent offense around him. Can the Eagles continue taking the football away as they've done in wins over Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh? Will starting jobs become solidified? On the offensive side, can Bradford and his teammates put together a solid first half, score points and show explosiveness?
Questions, questions. We all have them. How much does the preseason really tell us? How many questions are answered in Game 3, the closest we come to a regular season contest?